Rootroute ruby language pages

The Ruby Language FAQ: General questions Next Previous Contents

1. General questions

1.1 What is Ruby?

Ruby is a simple and powerful object-oriented programming language, created by Yukihiro Matsumoto (who goes by the handle "matz" in this document and on the mailing lists).

Like Perl, Ruby is good at text processing. Like Smalltalk, everything in Ruby is an object, and Ruby has blocks, iterators, meta-classes and other good stuff.

You can use Ruby to write servers, experiment with prototypes, and for everyday programming tasks. As a fully-integrated object-oriented language, Ruby scales well.

Ruby features:

1.2 Show me some Ruby code.

Let's define a class called Person, with a name and an age. We'll test our code by creating a few people and examining them.

class Person
  attr_accessor :name, :age
  def initialize(name, age)
    @name = name
    @age  = age.to_i
  def inspect
    "#@name (#@age)"

p1 ='elmo', 4)
p2 ='zoe', 7)

p1               # -> elmo (4)
p2               # -> zoe (7)

Now let's populate an array of people by reading their names and ages from a file containing lines like:
bert:    8
cookie: 11
elmo:    4
ernie:   8
zoe:     7

The code uses regular expressions to parse successive lines from the input file, creating a new Person object for each match and pushing it on to the end of the array people.

people =

File.foreach("ages") { |l|
  people <<$1, $2) if l =~ /(.*):\s+(\d+)/

people           # -> [bert (8), cookie (11), elmo (4), ernie (8), zoe (7)]

Now, let's sort the result based on the person's age. There are many ways to do this. We can define a sort block, which tells Ruby how to do the comparison of two people:

sorted = people.sort do |a,b| a.age <=> b.age end
sorted           # -> [elmo (4), zoe (7), bert (8), ernie (8), cookie (11)]

Another way would be to change the comparison method for class Person:

class Person
  def <=>(other)
    @age <=> other.age
people.sort      # -> [elmo (4), zoe (7), bert (8), ernie (8), cookie (11)]

1.3 Why the name 'Ruby'?

Influenced by Perl, Matz wanted to use a jewel name for his new language, so he named Ruby after a colleague's birthstone.

Later, he realized that Ruby comes right after Perl in several situations. In birthstones, pearl is June, ruby is July. When measuring font sizes, pearl is 5pt, ruby is 5.5pt. He thought Ruby was a good name for a programming language newer (and hopefully better) than Perl.

(Based on an explanation from matz in [ruby-talk:00394] on June 11, 1999.)

1.4 What is the history of Ruby?

The following a summary of a posting made by Matz in [ruby-talk:00382] on June 4, 1999. (The birthday of Ruby is corrected in [ruby-list:15977]).

Well, Ruby was born on February 24 1993. I was talking with my colleague about the possibility of an object-oriented scripting language. I knew Perl (Perl4, not Perl5), but I didn't like it really, because it had smell of toy language (it still has). The object-oriented scripting language seemed very promising.
I knew Python then. But I didn't like it, because I didn't think it was a true object-oriented language---OO features appeared to be add-on to the language. As a language manic and OO fan for 15 years, I really wanted a genuine object-oriented, easy-to-use scripting language. I looked for, but couldn't find one.
So, I decided to make it. It took several months to make the interpreter run. I put it the features I love to have in my language, such as iterators, exception handling, garbage collection.
Then, I reorganized the features of Perl into a class library, and implemented them. I posted Ruby 0.95 to the Japanese domestic newsgroups in Dec. 1995.
Since then, highly active mailing lists have been established and web pages formed.

1.5 Where is the Ruby Home Page?

The official Ruby Home Page is (in English) and (in Japanese).

You can also find Ruby information at In particular, there is a complete online reference to Ruby's built-in classes and methods.

1.6 Is there a Ruby newsgroup?

comp.lang.ruby was established in May, 2000 (thanks to the efforts of Conrad Schneiker).

1.7 Is there a Ruby mailing list?

There are five mailing lists now talking about Ruby. The first is in English, the last four in Japanese:

See joining the mailing list.

You can search the mailing list archives using (This is the url for the ruby-talk list: munge as required for the others).

1.8 **Changed** How can I thread the mailing list in mutt?

The Ruby mailing list software adds a prefix to the subject lines, for example [ruby-talk:1234]. This can confuse the threading in some mail user agents.

In mutt, you can get threading to work using the following variable setting.

# reply regexp, to support MLs like ruby-talk.
set reply_regexp="^(\[[a-z0-9:-]+\][[:space:]]*)?(re([\[0-9\]+])*|aw):[[:space:]]*"

1.9 Which is correct, Ruby or ruby?

Officially, the language is called ``Ruby''. On most systems, it is invoked using the command ``ruby''. It's OK to use ruby instead of Ruby.

Please don't use RUBY as the language name.

Originally, or historically, it was called ``ruby''.

1.10 Are there any Ruby books?

Programming Ruby: The Pragmatic Programmer's Guide, (the Pickaxe Book) by David Thomas and Andrew Hunt: ISBN 0-20171-089-7, Addison-Wesley, October 2000.

A Japanese language Ruby reference book by matz, et al and published by ASCII is available in Japan (ISBN 4-7561-3254-5). An English translation, `` The Ruby Programming Language,'' is in the works from Addison-Wesley (ISBN 020171096X).


A Japanese language ``Ruby Pocket Reference'' is published by O'Reilly Japan (ISBN 4-87311-023-8). Let O'Reilly in the US know if you'd like to see a translation.


In addition, `` Mastering Regular Expressions,'' by Jeffrey Friedl, (the Hip Owl Book): ISBN 1-56592-257-3 from O'Reilly & Associates, is a reference work that covers the art and implementation of regular expressions in various programming languages. Most of it is highly relevant to Ruby regular expressions.

1.11 Which editors provide support for Ruby.

1.12 How can I annotate Ruby code with its results?

People commonly annotate Ruby code by showing the results of executing each statement as a comment attached to that statement. For example, in the following code, we show that the assignment generates the string "Billy Bob", and then result of extracting some substrings.

  str = "Billy" + " Bob"           # -> "Billy Bob"
  str[0,1] + str[2,1] + str[-2,2]  # -> "Blob"

Gotoken's xmp package, available from is a utility that annotates Ruby source code this way.

Emacs and vim users can integrate this with their editing environments, which is useful if you want to send people e-mail with annotated Ruby code. Having installed xmp, Emacs users can add the following to their .emacs file:

(defun ruby-xmp-region (reg-start reg-end)
  "Pipe the region through Ruby's xmp utility and replace the region with
   the result."
  (interactive "r")
  (shell-command-on-region reg-start reg-end
                           "ruby -r xmp -n -e 'xmp($_, \"%l\t\t# %r\n\")'"
(global-set-key [(meta f10)] 'ruby-xmp-region)

Vim users can use the mapping (thanks to hipster):

map <M-F10> :!ruby -r xmp -n -e 'xmp($_, "\%l\t\t\# \%r\n")'<CR>

In both cases, highlight a region of code and hit Meta-F10 to annotate it.

1.13 I can't understand Ruby even after reading the manual!

The syntax of Ruby has been fairly stable since Ruby 1.0, but new features are added every now and then. So, the books and the online documentation can get behind.

If you have a problem, feel free to ask in the mailing list (see ruby-talk mailing list). Generally you'll get timely answers from matz himself, the author of the language, from other gurus, and from those who've solved problems similar to your own.

Please include the output of ruby -v along with any problematic source code.

If you have a problem using irb, be aware that it has some limitations. Try the script using irb --single-irb, or directly using the ruby command.

There might be similar questions in the mailing list, and it is good netiquette to read through recent mails (RFC1855:3.1.1, 3.1.2) before asking. But do ask on the list, and a correct answer will be forthcoming.

Next Previous Contents